Techniques for Mixed Media Layering
Layered Mixed Media Art on a Budget
There is a tidal wave of supplies for mixed media coming onto the market daily... and I find myself being swept along with it all – wanting, nay, needing all the latest inks, metallics, stamps, stencils, art papers, crayons and specially mixed signature paints – you name it, it's on my wish-list. And none of it is cheap – especially if you buy whole sets of designer products.
I was going through some old art journals the other night and what struck me was how I had been able to produce a wide variety of pages using very few materials. Face-palm moment - I don't need a great stack of art supplies to make mixed media art.
Come and have a browse through some of my old journals and I will share with you some simple techniques to add color and layers to your art - whether it be in books, on paper - or anything else that you want to decorate with layered mixed media.
The journal above is made from some left-over book packaging. I gessoed it, painted it, stamped it, painted some more, added bubble-wrap stamping, collaged it with a face and flowers I'd previously drawn, stamped some text, highlighted some areas with pen and shaded other areas with charcoal.
Budget Art Supplies
This is my suggested list of basic supplies. Pick and choose, you don't have to have everything. You could manage with paper, pens and glue to start with.
- Acrylic paint in the three primary colors: red, blue and yellow, plus black and white. You will use a lot of paint so buy in large tubes or containers. It doesn't have to be artist quality. Craft paint is fine.
- White Gesso - A primer that can also be mixed with paint. It adds texture to backgrounds and can be built up in layers. Gesso also comes in clear and black.
- Paint brushes – get a cheap set; you're going to kill them anyway with all the gluing.
- Old magazines.
- Scrapbook papers (not essential).
- Glue – I use glue sticks, PVA, Mod Podge and Golden Gel Medium. You don't need them all, plain old PVA will be fine.
- Paper towel rolls for cleaning up and dabbing your brushes dry.
- A piece of sequin waste, sometimes called 'punchinella'.
- Styrofoam/polystyrene pieces.
- Bubble wrap.
- Watercolor soluble crayons - useful in so many ways. A little costly but well worth it.
- Graphite pencils plus a charcoal pencil.
- Black pens – choose waterproof Sakura Pigma Micron or Sharpies.
- Found objects/embellishments – string, yarn, buttons, coins, washers, fabric scraps, paper scraps.
- Look for interesting things that could be used as stamps or stencils. One of my most useful things is a piece of plastic that came out of my fridge – it was part of a shelf meant for eggs so has lots of perfectly round holes in it.
Mixed Media Backgrounds - First Layers
You may be working in a book, on watercolor paper, a board or on canvas. You can even use discarded cardboard packaging. If the support (surface) is thin or very porous, it will require priming with acrylic gesso.
I love making backgrounds, it's my favorite part; it's all about experimenting and having fun with color. Here are some techniques for backgrounds:
Tip: have a hairdryer or preferably a heat gun to speed up drying time.
Paint all over with one layer of acrylic paint. You can experiment with mixing colors. Use undiluted. Allow to dry. Paint with a thin layer of gesso. Again, let it dry and use another paint color; this time dilute it with water so the first color glows through.
Do the same as before, adding some torn paper text onto the first layer of paint. Glue the pieces on randomly, let them dry and continue with the other layers.
Take an old credit card and scrape a layer of paint. While it is still wet, scrape another color in the opposite direction.
Collage the whole surface with paper scraps, then gesso. Use your fingers to rub paint over the surface to show up the texture. You can do the same thing with tissue paper. Glue it down and encourage it to crinkle. It must be bone dry before adding paint.
Get hold of some cheap mini spray bottles, dilute some acrylic paint with water and spray the paints on to the surface. You could lay objects down – punchinella, elastic bands, plastic combs, string, bottle tops, anything to provide a stencil.
Get a piece of flat styrofoam – mine comes from frozen pizza packaging. Get a ballpoint pen and draw a design into the foam. Paint it with acrylic and press it onto your paper. Instant stamp at almost no cost at all – and someone got pizza. Make lots of these.
Adding Layers to Mixed Media Art
I love adding layers, it's also my favorite part; be bold and don't worry about the end result.
- Make a border. Collage some scrap paper or scribble a border with water-soluble crayons. Entirely up to you whether you activate them with water or not. Alternatively, take your black pens and doodle all round the edges.
- Cut out interesting images from magazines – faces, food, cars, watches, text, animals, trees, anything that takes your eye. My kids and I sometimes spend an afternoon going through old National Geographics and cutting out things we think would be useful for collage. We do spend quite a lot of time reading the articles too – as a home-schooling mama, I like the idea of learning while playing!
- Lay down your collage pieces, move them around the page until you have made a layout that appeals. Glue the pieces into place. Once they are dry, take a soft graphite pencil or charcoal pencil and go round the edges lightly. Smudge the graphite/charcoal with a finger or a paper blender. This integrates the collage to the background and gives a nice grungy look.
- I bet you have been using paper towels to wipe your brushes on and clean up spills as you go, yes? Well go get them out of the trash and carefully spread them out. Look at those colors! If you want you can glue them directly on to your page, or maybe, you'd like to iron them first? Tear into strips and leave gaps in between so your background shows through. Add more paint if you wish. Anything goes!
- Take a small piece of bubble wrap, paint the bubbly side with white acrylic paint and stamp it on to your page. Let it go over some of the collage.
- Get your child to draw pictures for you. My daughter is great at portraits – she draws very spontaneously and loves to let me have them for my journals.
Adding the top layer is my favorite part, really! I love to see how it all comes together; how certain areas melt into the background and other bits pop.
Scribble, draw or doodle.
Embellish with small objects.
Glue on a family photo.
Add lace scraps.
Journal or add a quote that inspires you.
Highlight areas with a metallic gel pen or a white correction pen. Go raid your kid's pencil case.
Shade other areas with your charcoal pencil. It pushes them back into the page.
There are trillions of manufactured, mass-produced embellishments at craft stores these days. It's much more fun to find your own. Be authentic and don't follow the crowd. Steer away from other people's designs and discover your own.
There are supplies for your mixed media art all around you - look in the kitchen; have you thought about painting your pages with coffee or tea? How about in the yard? Glue some tiny twigs onto your pages. The bathroom? Those make-up sponges would be great for making textured backgrounds. You don't have to spend lots of money to have fun with art!